The Nashville Predators are entering that tricky stretch of the hockey season for playoff bound teams.

(And yes, even though they got their tails beaten in on Saturday to the Colorado Avalanche, the Predators are still considered a playoff team.)

Why is this stretch of the season so tricky? Several reasons, but I’ll give you two.

One, teams must strike a balance between staying healthy and playing at a high pace. You want to win games, but not at the cost of losing players to injury. You can’t risk entering the playoffs with most of your star players on cold streaks. But you also can’t risk them entering the playoffs on injured reserve.

Another reason this time of year is tricky is you can’t be too high or too low on single game results. Even if those results bump you up or down a tier in the standings, there’s too much at stake in the playoffs to worry about a game in early March. As a player, if you strain too hard in March, do you have what you need to dig deep in April and May? As a coach, can the messages to your team become stale before the playoffs hit?

So, as much as Saturday’s result was disappointing, it’s in the past and the Predators have to move on. Win the next game on the schedule. Go 1-0 today. And so on.

Having said all that, here’s one thing the Predators need to start doing more of: starting Juuse Saros.

This has only a little bit to do with Pekka Rinne’s 2nd half stretch where he’s gone 7-6-2 in 15 games with a .904 save percentage. It has a lot to do with keeping him fresh for the playoffs.

The Predators need to make sure Rinne is rested and ready to go for the playoffs. He’s the key to their success in the playoffs, probably more than anyone. Spoiler alert: no matter what happens the rest of this season, Pekka Rinne will be the Predators’ Game 1 starter in the playoffs. That’s a given.

History shows that Rinne is much better in the playoffs with a bit of rest late in the season. Take the 2017 season, where Saros found himself playing a lot more games toward the end of the year.

Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne Juuse Saros
Breakdown of goalie playing time by game number of the 2016-17 Preds season via

This allowed Rinne the rest he needed to play well in the playoffs against the Blackhawks, Blues, and Ducks. He lost some steam against the Penguins, but not before the Predators went on the longest playoff run in franchise history.

Rinne has started three straight for the Preds and five of the last six. Saros has played well in his last five games, going 3-1-1 with a .924 save percentage. Also, if Saros gets injured, the Preds are in a world of hurt, but they aren’t out of it. If Rinne gets hurt, they are almost certainly out of it.

It’s time to give Saros more starts.

Five Quick Thoughts

  1. Don’t be surprised if Dan Hamhuis is done for the year. That knee-to-knee hit from Zadorov on Saturday looked really bad.
  2. I wonder if Craig Smith being injured has held up David Poile’s actions on the trade market. There were some rumors that he would be part of a return, either him or Kevin Fiala.
  3. After putting up five goals in five games during a hot streak in January, Nick Bonino has gone cold. Pointless in twelve straight games. February has not been kind to Bonino.
  4. Power-less play update: 12.6% on the season (27-for-214) and dead last in the league again.
  5. The trade deadline is today and there’s simply no way the Preds are getting Mark Stone. The rumored price is multiple firsts and multiple prospects. Since that won’t happen, the Preds might have to aim their sights on someone like Kevin Hayes, who they’ve also been mentioned as interested in.

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Let’s Do That Hockey

Monday 2/25 – 7:00 PM: Predators vs. Oilers [FS-TN]

Tuesday 2/26 – 7:00 PM: Predators @ Blues [FS-TN]

Friday 3/1 – 7:00 PM: Predators @ Jets [FS-TN]

Sunday 3/3 – 6:30 PM: Predators @ Wild [NBCSN]

Final Thought

The Predators are about to enter probably their toughest game week of the season. Though the Oilers come into town without Connor McDavid (suspension), the rest of the week is a Central division test of strength.

The St. Louis Blues, as I wrote earlier this week, are the new worry for the Predators. They’ve won 13 of their last 16 games, pulling within five points of the Preds for 2nd place in the Central.

The Winnipeg Jets, the Preds’ other main worry, are on somewhat of a skid, going 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. But visiting Winnipeg is always a challenge and their offense is bound to break out of its slump at some point.

Then there’s the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. The Wild were thought to be bowing out of the race when they sold Charlie Coyle to the Bruins. But the return, forward Ryan Donato, has four points in three games, including the game winning goal in overtime on Sunday against the Blues. The Wild are now a point ahead of the Avalanche for the 2nd wild card spot.

So there’s eight possible points up for grabs this week for the Predators, and six of those eight are against divisional opponents. If they can six, or maybe even just five, of those eight points this week, that would be a success.

— All stats via Hockey Reference. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —